Red, White and Blue Wines for the 4th!

Yeah, that’s right… blue wine. I know, I know…. I had the same reaction. But why? How? And, why? It seems some entrepreneurial producers in Spain thought it would be a clever idea to craft a blue colored wine targeted at the all encompassing market of the millennials. Apparently it is a blend of Spanish red and white grapes which gains its color from anthocyanin, a pigment found in grape skins, and iodine that is extracted from the Isatis tinctoria plant. It is reportedly a sweet, young refreshing style of wine meant to pair with sushi and nachos with guac. Having never tried this blue wine before I cannot offer any opinion on the quality or value… but I can say that my expectations are fairly low.

Now for the REAL 4th of July recommendations! Is it me, or did it get super hot super quick to start the summer? I feel like the Chardonnay season came and went and I am
already reaching for more refreshing white options. While Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are always popular, as an overly broad generalization, they tend to seem a little too simplistic (sorry Santa Margherita and Brancott fans). As of late I find myself reaching for that dry style of Riesling from a multitude of regions as well as Chenin Blancs from the Loire and South Africa. The nice part about all of these wines is that they typically offer a solid value.

The Fox Run Rie2015 Den Chenin Blancsling (Finger Lakes) is a staple in my house over the summer months, and the bone dry Willm Reserve Riesling (Alsace) is a tremendously food friendly wine to pair with all kinds of shellfish and chilled seafood starters. The Painted Wolf ‘The Den’ Chenin Blanc is crisp, tropical with just a hint of oaky notes, and their Pinotage from the same line is pretty stellar as well. The Sauvon Vouvray (Chenin Blanc grape) is a value superstar every vintage with its floral character and subtle honey notes, and can actually gain complexity with a few years of age. The best part… all of these wines are under $20.

 

Red wines that are suitable for the 4th, and the summer in general, need to be grill friendly that can pair up with anything from burgers and dogs to filet and lobster surf & turf. That means they have to be versatile, hearty and food friendly (which typically means they need a good dose of acidity). Let’s not forget that it’s hot out there… so some lighter, thirst quenching reds (which can even be served slightly chilled) are integral to any successful July 4th BBQ. I get made fun of all the time for my infatuation with the Seaglass Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, but it remains the best Pinot under $15 for my money. This is one of those lighter style wines that can benefit from a few minutes in the fridge before opening,  accentuating the lively acidity and bright cherry and berry fruit.

I find myself leaning towards the Northern Rhone wines during the grilling season. The smoky and meaty style of Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph wines (Syrah based) complement just about any sort of beef you decide to toss on the grill. The Jean Luc Colombo Crozes ‘Les Fees Brunes’ is a stellar under $25 option while the J.L. Chave Saint Joseph ‘Offerus’  is solid just about every vintage and can be found for just a few bucks more. Of course if you are feeling saucy and looking to splurge on something, how about a Cote Rotie for the 4th this year? E. Guigal, Vidal Fleury and St. Cosme are all quality producers and their wines come at a somewhat ‘value’ price under $80. Top tier Cote Rotie wines are easily $100 and up so yes, $50-75 is considered a value for this particular region.

But if you want to keep it simple and patriotic for the 4th, grab some California Zin and Petite Sirah. Both are as American as you can get when it comes to grape varieties, and are big enough to stand up to just about any of your standard BBQ fare. They can offer various spices and boast a firm tannic character to offset those fatty and saucy pork and beef dishes. Zichichi (Dry Creek Valley) is one of my perennial favorites for both varieties, but they are not the easiest to come by. On the Zin side, I always find the Terra d’Oro wines exude great complexity and character without breaking the bank both at their entry level as well as their old vine single vineyard higher end offerings.  Of course if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ camp, then seek out one of the many Zins from Turley. They range from the entry Juvenille level up to several single vineyard options, all opulent and killer! As far as Petite Sirah goes, Handcraft has a nice one out for under $15 that will certainly please the palate. But for about $40 you can find the Stag’s Leap Winery P.S. which slams you with dark berry, peppery spice and is flat out tasty juice. Talk about a wine that screams out for BBQ ribs and wings! But this is a big boy for sure, so give it a little time to show it’s true colors…none of which are blue😉

 

 

 

Some Fall Wines To Help Get Over the Summertime Blues

Get over it people…summer’s over. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s time that someone said it out loud. Sure, I’d love to still be kicking up the sand and body surfing the waves, grilling all day long while knocking back some summer brews and crisp, mouthwatering whites like everyone else. But it’s time to face facts, fall is coming and there is nothing we can do about it. Well, almost nothing.

What we can do is start switching gears from all those light and refreshing beverages to some with a little more body, spice and flavor. When it comes to beer, I don’t need to tell you what is on the horizon…can you say, Pumpkin?!?! But for wine, there is a myriad of red and white selections that can make the transition from the dog days of summer into the cool autumn nights and those breezy, foliage filled days a little more palatable.

Chardonnay

While Pinot Grigio and Sauvi Blanc kept you cool and refreshed over the summer, Chardonnay makes for the ideal fall white. With so many different styles ranging from the clean, lean and green apple driven unoaked version to the smoky, oaky and buttery bombs, it can be enjoyed during those warm fall afternoons or those chilly evenings. Having recently visited the Finger Lakes, my two favorite Chards right now both hail from Fox Run Vineyards where they are producing some serious whites. The unaoked Doyle Family Vineyard Chardonnay as well as the noticeably oaked Reserve Kaiser Vineyard Chard are both impeccable for the season and super reasonable under $15 for either option.

Zinfandel

No, not the pink stuff… REAL Zinfandel. There is something about all that blackberry and blueberry pie, brambly fruit and peppery spice that just screams fall to me. Whether opening a bottle for those late season grill sessions, or just enjoying a glass in front of the fire pit, Zin and fall truly make a perfect pairing. Rosenblum’s entire line of Zinfandel is pretty stellar, but for me the Rockpile Vineyard for around $25-30 a bottle is a clear standout. And for about $20-25 you can grab the Decoy Zinfandel (entry line of Duckhorn) which is a true value as it exhibits much of the same flavor profile as the higher end Paraduxx Zin that is twice the price.

2012 Decoy Sonoma County Zinfandel

Northern Rhone

Most people seem to be more familiar with the Southern Rhone (AOCs such as Cotes du Rhones and Chateuneuf Du Pape) Grenache based wines than the Northern Rhone which is a little more elusive and dare I say…mystical? These Syrah based wines (some with a dash of Viogner, yes a white wine, added into the blends) are known to be quite complex yet elegant and typically carry aromas and flavors of black fruit, kirsch, pepper, earth, floral notes and even bacon fat. These hearty and silky wines are just what the doctor ordered to help keep warm and cozy on those crisp autumn evenings.

Certain AOCs such as Cote Rotie and Hermitage are home to some of the most famous vineyards in the world and produce some outrageously delicious, ageable and expensive wines. Yet, there are less elite appellations such as Crozes Hermitage, Cornas and St. Joseph that intrinsically carry similar styles and characteristics at a much more affordable price point. Some top notch producers to keep an eye out for are E. Guigal, M. Chapoutier, Tardieu Laurent, Delas Freres and Saint Cosme.

E-Guigal-Cote-Rotie-Brune-Blonde-2010        wine bottle label       

Port

This may not be an everyday fall kind of wine, but if the right occasion arises a little Port can go a long way. Fortified wines are like getting the best of both worlds, since they are typically a combination of some form of spirit and wine. In producing Port, brandy is added to the juice during fermentation in order to halt the process leaving much of the residual sugar in the finished product… pure genius! Originally it was done so the wine could travel without spoiling, but ever since the chaps over in England were taken with this new style of wine it has become a dessert wine staple. So when you are sitting out in front of the fire on those lovely fall nights making S’mores with the kiddies, the chocolate, dark plum and berry flavors of most Ruby style Ports, particular a Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto, make for a decadent accompaniment.

        

So instead of dreading the fading of those summer days, it is time to revel in the emergence of my favorite season of the year. Enough with all of that lounging around, enjoying the pool and beach and golf and… I mean who am I kidding, of course it sucks. But enjoying some of these fall friendly selections will at least soften the blow.

Cheers!

What to pair with your Easter Dinner

Wow… a blast from the past! I posted this for Easter 5 years ago… and while some of the actual wines may no longer be available, the pairings still hold true. Take a look if you are in need of some Easter Wine Pairing help… Cheers!

Westchester Wine Guy

As Good Friday has arrived, it’s time to start thinking about a lot of things for Easter Weekend….. where to hide the Easter eggs, which masses to hit (preferably the ones that aren’t like 3 hours) and what wines to buy that will complement the Easter feast you have planned. Not to fear…WWG has a few easy recommendations to help make your meal a hit! I should mention that even though I am Westchester based, I am always happy to have new followers that live in other areas too (yes, even out in Massapequa, LI… you know who you are!)

The two most popular meats that people cook on Easter are ham and lamb. So let’s start with a ham pairing. As far as meats go, ham is a little light and usually has some form of a sweet glaze on it. Even though I almost always prefer a red…

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How To Do A Steakhouse On A Budget

There are few culinary delights that can surpass that of a top tier steakhouse dining experience. From the seductive aromas of grilled beef and butter that are taken in at first entry to the last sip of port enjoyed with that decadent chocolate lava cake, they offer something  utterly satisfying that few other restaurants are able to do. But all of this hedonistic enjoyment can cost a pretty penny. The better steakhouses will charge $45+ for a cut of beef, and that normally does not come with any sides…just a piece of meat on a plate. Once you factor in all the starters, the trimmings to accompany the steak, not to mention that big Napa Cab, a few desserts, espressos and after dinner drinks, the bill can end up totaling the same as your monthly mortgage.

But does a steakhouse meal have to be that exorbitant? In a word…Nope!There are some very simple ways to cut a few corners in order to still enjoy all that a quality steakhouse has to offer while keeping the expenditures down. It’s all about efficiency.

The first pitfall for many is the allure of the seafood tower…as it clearly rocks. However they really are over the top when you consider all the crustaceans they load them up with.  You may be better off just ordering your favorite shellfish for yourself. Whether it is a half dozen oysters or a shrimp cocktail platter, the amount it will cost for the individual appetizer will be significantly less than the per person cost of an overindulgent seafood platter tower. The ever popular bacon appetizer can also suck you in as they are fantastically delicious, but super pricey for what is usually a single strip serving. And let’s be honest, you are about to dive into a giant, juicy piece of meat… do you really need more meat as an app?

The biggest unnecessary expense in most steakhouses is that of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons on the wine list. Why you may ask? Because they are effing delicious and make for a perfect pairing with grilled meat…plus they are sort of a status symbol to some, particularly those trying to impress clients or first dates. These establishments are well aware of this and will mark up those wines more than others. I find that CA Merlot and Zin, as well as the Cotes du Rhone and Spanish selections offer the greatest pairing value without skimping on quality, depending on the producer and year of course. But without question they almost always carry significantly lower markups. A good rule of thumb is to go with the second least expensive wine in any given section of the wine list, although even if you get the cheapest bottle they are typically not pouring swill at any of these fancy joints.

One place you don’t want to skimp out is on the steak. The main reason you are probably dining at a highly rated and expensive steakhouse is to enjoy that perfectly cooked piece of dry aged beef… so go for it! However there is no need to add that lobster tail for the surf and turf effect, or even those few grilled shrimp on the side. Remember, shellfish ain’t cheap. If you choose to order side dishes, you want to stick with two sides for every four people. So an order of creamed/grilled spinach and hash browns is more than enough for a table of four. Again, the steak is the star of the show so let that bad boy shine!

If you have ever actually looked at what jacks up the bill at the end of the night, more often than not it ends up being beverages of all kind. Of course the wine and booze are the biggest culprits, but the fancy coffees and all the accoutrements are no slouch. I love a double espresso with Sambuca as much as anyone, but in a steakhouse that one little luxury can run up to $20. Stick with the regular coffee and split a dessert or two instead of going overboard with the port, cognac and oversized dessert platter. Or skip the dessert and coffee altogether and enjoy the last course in the luxury of your own home.

Bonus Wine Tip: Ask the server if they have any by the bottle wine specials. Many times these steakhouses have an older bottle they may need to move out in order to make room for a new vintage. If they have a few loose bottles that are no longer on the menu and don’t have a listed price, you may get lucky and score one of those older Napa Cabs or Bordeauxs at a bargain price.

So get out there and enjoy some of those fantastic steakhouses that Westchester has to offer, as there are certainly many to choose from.

Salute!

 

My Top 10 Grillin’ Wines

As my somewhat pessimistic colleague always says… no one reads copy. So let’s just get right to the juice that will immensely improve your 2014 BBQ season:

10. Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California – I am usually not a Pinot Grigio fan, but this is like Summer in a bottle and my new “house white”. Floral and citrus aromas that lead to stone fruit and hints of honeysuckle on the palate, good weight for a PG too. ($10-12)

9. Matarromera 2009 Crianza Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero – All kinds of black fruits with roasted coffee, pepper and earthy notes. Big yet balanced wine. ($30-35)

8. Barrel 27 2011 “Right Hand Man” Syrah Central Coast – With 7% Viogner it’s made in the Cote Rotie style. Dark fruit, dark chocolate and peppery spice, excellent value. ($15-20)

7. Seaglass 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara – For my money this is the best Santa Barbara Pinot in town. Classic Pinot fruit with hints of earth and spice complemented by a good dose of acidity. Perfect with poultry off the grill. ($12-15)

6. Chalone 2010 Chardonnay, Limited Release, Chalone AVA – Lots of classic apple, melon and banana fruit on the nose and palate with a great balance of acidity and oak aging ($13-18)

5. Argiano Non Confunditur 2011 – Don’t miss this serious Super Tuscan! Powerful yet balanced with alluring dark fruit, mineral and licorice. Nice acidity too so it will work with anything from grilled veggies to a Ribeye steak. ($16-20)

4. Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza – Aside from the great name, this is a tremendously balanced, lush and sultry wine. Blackberry, peppery spice, floral notes and racy tannins make this a no-brainer pairing for those saucy St. Louis BBQ ribs. ($20-25).

3. Two Hands 2012 Shiraz Angels’ Share, McLaren Vale  – Two Hands makes some of the best Shiraz out there, like the much more expensive Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden. But for under $30 this is a dark, dense and opulent fruit driven wine that screams for any kind of meat you choose to BBQ.

2. Manzanita Creek 2009 Zinfandel, Cloud Buster, Russian River Valley – What a ridiculous value Zin this is for under $20! Brimming with brambly berry, blueberry pie, brown spice and black pepper this is a wine that pleases on all levels. Super long and fruit filled finish keeps you coming back for more. ($20-28)

And the number 1 wine for this grillin’ season is….

1. Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 Domaine Barville, Brotte – A simply stunning, complex and big CDP loaded with really pure and expressive black fruits laced with black pepper, leather and meaty notes. The balance of acid and tannins gives this a harmonious balance making it a sure fire winner for whatever you plan to grill. It isn’t cheap, but in the realm of Chateauneufs it is a tremendous value considering the quality. ($40-45)

But really the best wine to drink at your summer BBQ is whichever one gives you the most pleasure! So if you’re a Napa Cab fan, don’t be afraid to break out that Caymus, Silver Oak or Duckhorn the next time the mood strikes you…clearly they will all be fantastic with a properly cooked piece of beef too.

Cheers!

 

 

Top Thanksgiving Wines Under $15!

It’s completely ludicrous to think that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away…but ready or not here it comes. Seems like there is always so much to do before this holiday: figuring out who is hosting, planning menus, ironing out the guest list and of course deciding which wines will make it to the table.

Wine lovers will often inquire about what wine makes the best paring for a Thanksgiving meal. The simplest answer is Riesling or Chardonnay for the whites and Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Rhones for the reds as the peppery spice in all of those reds match up well with the traditionally prepared Thanksgiving bird. I have tasted some value/inexpensive options over the past month that clearly distinguished themselves as wines that would only enhance this food driven holiday…so I thought I would share.

If you plan on serving white wine with the meal you want to check out the 2012 Wilim Alsace Riesling and the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. The Wilim Riesling is made in typical Alsace fashion with bright citrus and apple fruit, lovely balance (not a very sweet wine) and a dry, minerally finish. The CSM Chard is such a food friendly wine offering supple pear, apple and melon flavors with just the right amount of that oaky and buttery character rounding out the palate. Both are steals that can be found for under $15 retail.

When it comes to Pinot, there are two clear standouts in this value price range…the 2012 Santa Rita Pinot Noir 120 Central Valley and the Seaglass 2012 Santa Barbara Pinot. You will be SHOCKED when you taste that Santa Rita 120 and realize it is from Chile. No dirty, muddy undertones that most inexpensive Chilean reds carry. Just pure, clean and expressive Pinot character with loads of vibrant berry fruit, black pepper and spice…and at under $10 it is a no brainer! The Seaglass is a perennial favorite of mine as it is delicate in nature but well structured with a lingering finish. Easily mistaken for a sub appellation Santa Barbara Pinot twice the price.

For all the ZinHeads out there, my under $15 choice for Turkey Day this year has to be the 2011 Joel Gott California Zinfandel. My family has spent many Thanksgivings with Mr. Gott (well, his wines anyway) and he never disappoints. All that blueberry and blackberry fruit layered over baking and peppery spices make for a wonderful accompaniment to a well stuffed bird and all the trimmins. And at right around $15 it is a serious value as well.

Cotes du Rhones are usually not my favorite, as I tend to find them overly tart and on the light side (yes, I am completely overgeneralizing). However the 2011 Selection Laurence Feraud CDR brought about that WOW feeling which these wines rarely elicit. Considering the wine was produced by the famed CDP Domaine du Pegau winemaker I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is super approachable with vibrant berry and red cherry fruit surrounded by hints of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow and the mouthfeel is soft and lush. You’d be hard pressed to find a better CDR at this price point as well as one that will enhance your Turkey like this beauty.

Here’s wishing all of you and yours a very healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, good food and better juice😉

Cheers!

Xaviars in Piermont Doesn’t Suck…

Obviously that is putting it mildly as Xaviars is one of the premier restaurants in not only Westchester/Rockland, but all of New York. I had the pleasure of dining there recently with my wife and friends to help celebrate my 40th (which sort of does suck), so I thought I would share the highlights.

First off, this place is tiny. With a mere 40 person capacity, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinners for more people than this dining room can hold. Of course that’s what adds to the undeniable charm and character of Peter Kelly’s flagship restaurant. The service is excellent as you would expect, that is unless you want to know exactly what is on the tasting menu for that particular evening…that took a bit of prying. However after some interrogating I was able to finally break down our waiter and get the scoop.

https://i1.wp.com/www.xaviars.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Xaviars_front.jpg

The main menu consists of 6 appetizers and 6 entrees, with no two dishes alike. The 5 course pairing is the nightly call of the chef to select a shellfish, seafood, poultry, beef and dessert dish from their menu and pair each of them with an appropriate wine. An extremely cool way to sample the entire menu, however not a great option if someone in your group may not enjoy some of the riskier menu items. So instead we just went a la carte and tasted each other’s dishes which worked out wonderfully.

While everything that came out of that kitchen was excellent, the appetizer highlights for me were the Aji Amarillo Chili Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna Crudo and the Chittarra with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat (could have been a half portion of pasta as the main meal too). As for the entrees, I thought the Hummingbird Ranch Honey Glazed Belle Farms Duck Breast was the clear standout while the Duet of Berkshire Pork and Coriander Crusted Wild Salmon were not far behind.  If there was one small flaw it had to be with the Herbs de Provence Roast Rack of American Lamb as the portion could have been heartier and the lamb chops swayed a little too far towards the fatty side. But of course I am nitpicking as it was still quite delicious.

Instead of trying to pair each course with a wine by the glass, we decided to order a bottle we all would enjoy. The wine list is fairly approachable both in size and cost. We found a 2010 Neyers Del Barba Vineyard Zin from Contra Costa County for $50 which is less than double the retail cost making it a great deal. Dare I say it was Zintastic with lots of black fruit, peppery spice and balance deeming it an extremely food friendly option.

The by the glass selection was slightly limited but every wine offered was certainly a quality option and with a fair price tag boding well for those that selected the tasting menu. It was also nice to see a NY State Finger Lakes Ice Wine Riesling from Wagner on the dessert menu… solid local juice and a wonderful way to end the meal.

So you have to figure you’re gonna get banged over the head for a meal like this, right? Not the case! With apps ranging from $15-20 and entrees from $30-39 it is not all that outrageous. Plus, if you book it through Groupon Reserve you can get another 15% off the total bill…including wine! To pay that kind of price for a true culinary experience like this is a pleasure. So I would highly recommend the next time you have the right occasion to venture across the TZ (yeah that part sucks), head to Xaviars in Piermont as it is really a worthwhile dining experience.

Cheers!